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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers announced Friday that the team has applied the franchise tag to defensive end Greg Hardy. Hardy, entering his fifth NFL season, led the Panthers in sacks last season with 15.

"We are very pleased that Greg will be back with the Panthers next season," says head coach Ron Rivera. "He was a big reason we were able to lead the League in sacks last year and keeps our defensive line intact."

In 2013, Hardy was selected to his first career Pro Bowl and earned Associated Press All-Pro second team honors after ranking third in the NFL and tying the team record with 15 sacks, previously accomplished by Kevin Greene in 1998. Hardy led the Panthers with 38 quarterback pressures and posted a career-high 67 tackles as part of a unit that ranked second in the NFL in total defense and points allowed and led the league in sacks.

Hardy is the fifth player in Panthers history to receive the franchise tag, joining punter Todd Sauerbrun (2003), tackle Jordan Gross (2008), defensive end Julius Peppers (2009) and center Ryan Kalil (2011).

"The franchise mechanism gives us time to secure the services of a very good player while we continue to look at the future of Greg with the Carolina Panthers," says general manager Dave Gettleman. "We have had great dialogue with both Greg and his agent. It was important to keep our defensive front together."

Hardy has teamed with Charles Johnson to give the Panthers the only set of teammates with 10 or more sacks in each of the last two seasons. In the last two seasons, they have combined for 49.5 sacks, tied for most in the NFL.

For his career, Hardy has played in 62 games with 39 starts and has registered 33 sacks. He was selected by the Panthers in the sixth round (175thoverall) of the 2010 NFL Draft.

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